Name Your God

While listening to an Oasis alumni, Matt, talk to some upcoming graduates I was inspired concerning who their “real” God might be.  As these students approach a major decision point in their lives, who their practical God is will appear.  They are all great Christians who are actively serving.  They love Jesus and His church without a doubt.  Yet, when it comes down to it, what is the starting point, and the central focus of their planning?  Is it the highest paying job?  Is it the school that offers the best scholarship and grant money?  Is it a church where they can continue to actively serve Jesus Christ?  Neither a high paying job nor a full ride for grad school are evil things, but if that is the first consideration with the thought of fitting God somewhere around them, then those items are in reality their functional saviors, their “real” gods.

This is not something that only these students face, but the same thing that we face all the time when a crisis point or major decision is on the horizon.  In what or who do we place our primary confidence?  If we believe in Jesus then we certainly want to live in a way that pleases Him, but is He the first Person we consult?  If Christ seems to be leading us in a direction contrary to our preferences, are we willing to follow His lead or do we sideline Him?

I do not believe that we have to be super clear, doubt and fear free when it comes to the Lord’s leading when making a decision.  Rather, that we have determined to follow Him no matter what.  Let’s be honest, a lot of the time it is not that cut and dry when it comes to discerning the Lord’s speaking in our decisions.  Often, it is best to determine to follow the Lord no matter what and if it isn’t clear what direction He is leading then to objectively look at the situation, get advice from wise mentors and then do something telling the Lord to make it clear if it is the wrong choice.  (For more on this, check out my review of the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung.)

So, it is time for a gut check.  When it comes to the decisions in your life, who or what is the first thing that you consider and consult?  Odds are, that is your god.  If your honest first response was not Jesus then this would be a great time to come to Him and ask for His help to give your heart some re-ordering help.

Book Review: Why We Love the Church

WWLTCI have finished reading Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.  My reaction the book is, “It is about time!” It is about time that there were some authors who have gone counter-cultural and written about the church, Christ’s Body & Bride, from a positive and biblical perspective.  I give this book a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is missing the final .5 star only because I felt a couple chapters could have had a little more “meat”.

You can get some of my positive feedback on the book by looking at some of my earlier blog posts.  So, I would like to end with a couple impressions from the book’s epilogue: Toward a Theology of Plodding Visionaries.  In this ending the authors bring out that if people truly understood the doctrine or original sin a lot of this “anti-church”, “church is lame”, “disgruntled with church” thoughts could be greatly reduced.

Unfortunately it seems that many who promote discontentment with the church also fall into the heresy of denying (or mocking or ignoring) the clear biblical teaching of original sin (it was “officially” declared heresy at the Counsel of Ephesus in AD 431).  Original sin has this way of getting in the way of their idealistic utopian view of humanity that just needs to love more and act more like Jesus (without necessarily needing to be born again) to solve all the world’s problems.  Yet if we truly understand the doctrine of original sin, we will have a more realistic view of the world, ourselves, the church, and the need for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world.  Instead of bashing the church we will begin to see her as Christ sees her and realize how Christ is using her to be the hope of the world.

Here are some of the authors’ concluding thoughts:

“In summary, the gospel is not about what we need to do for God.  It’s a message about what God has done for us.  It’s a declaration of God’s plan of redemption unfolding in history with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

By contrast, the marching orders of the church today are often nothing more than dressed up moralism.  We have a gospel of activism, with no rest for the weary, only a summons to do more for the world.  This kind of gospel, though it’s presented as the glowing alternative to all that supposedly plagues the church today, will quickly cause a church to collapse under the weight of its own idealistic demands.  We need to recover the doctrine of original sin if for no other reason than so we can once again discover God’s glorious grace.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan.  Jesus didn’t invite people to join an antireligion, antidoctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and reintegration.  To be sure, He showed people how to live.  But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).  If we truly love the church we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification.  I still believe the church is the hope of the world – not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give up on the church.  The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians.  The visible church is for you and me” (pp 225-226).

Organic & Organized Church

There is a lot of hype in the Christian world today about the church needing to be organic and not organized. A kind of reaction against what some feel to be an oppressive system or dry set of practices.  Church PlantOften Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in their midst”) is stated as the model for true biblical “church gathering” (ignoring the fact that the context is about church discipline).

To be fair, I do not doubt that there are come congregations that may be “oppressive”, overly “systematized”, and “dry”.  But we must be careful about making blanket statements and setting up false dichotomies.  The Bible is clear that the church is both organic and organized.  She is the organic Body of Christ and is to be biblically expressed through spiritual and organizational means.

Kenny DeYoung and Ted Kluck, authors of Why We Love the Church, explain this quite well in the twenty-six page long seventh chapter of the book – ‘The Church of Diminishing Definition”.  I shall just pull out a couple quotes since you really should read the book yourself:

“The problem with this minimalist ecclesiology [all you need are two or more Christians in the same place at the same time being spiritual together] is that it confuses definition and function.  I have no problem with defining the church as elect people of God, or as the gathered Christian community, or as all those who have put their faith in Jesus.  These are pretty standard definitions.  But to say the church is the people of God is not the same as saying that wherever the people of God are there you have a church.  The problem with the previous sentence is that “church” is used in two different ways.  At the beginning of the sentence, “the church” refers to the universal organic fellowship of Christians.  So, of course, the church is the people of God.  The two are almost synonymous.  But in the second half of the sentence, “a church” suggests a local, concrete expression of the universal, organic fellowship.  The church manifests itself in churches.  And churches do certain things and are marked by certain characteristics.  So as a definition, the church may be the people of God, but for God’s people gathered to be a church they must function in a certain way” (p 166).

Later on, the authors of the book use an example from the Jesus figure in the book The Shack. On page 123 in The Shack we hear “Jesus” tell Mack, “Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.”  I think this is a good example of setting “organic” (or relationship) against “organization” (or structure or hierarchy) – something that the Bible does not do in regards to Christ’s church.  The authors of Why We Love the Church make these comments about this quote:

“The idea is that the church can exist, and it seems should exist, without authority structures or any role distinctions among its members.  There are only two problems with this model of church: it’s unbiblical and it’s unrealistic.  “Anarchy does not work,” writes Professor Herman Bavinck.  “To say that Christ has founded a church without any organization, government, or power is a statement that arises from principles characteristic of philosophical mysticism but takes no account of the teaching of Scripture, nor of the realities of life.”” (pp 167-168).

I’ll close this blog with what I feel is a great summarizing paragraph from Why We Love the Church in regards to having an organic and biblically organized church:

“The church, as the elect people of God, is both organism and organization.  The church is a breathing, growing, maturing, living thing.  It is also comprised of a certain order (1 Cor. 14:40), with institutional norms (5:1-13), doctrinal standards (15:1-2), and defined rituals (11:23-26).  The two aspects of the church – organism and organization – must not be played off against each other, for both are “grounded in the operations of the glorified head of the church through the Holy Spirit.”  Offices and gifts, governance and people, organization and organism – all these belong together.  They are all blessings from the work of Christ” (p 170).

Football, Faith, & Fatherhood

I was reading Why We Love the Church and got excited about hearing a football player boldly declaring the gospel while being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but then teared up a bit upon reading the comments of the football player’s son.

“[Here’s] former Washington Redskin wide receiver and 2008 inductee Art Monk, who quietly and passionately present the gospel and quotes more Scripture than most American pastors during his speech.

Monk’s words are something of a revelation.  He begins by explaining that football and the Hall of Fame induction don’t define him.  Rather, he says, he is defined by his faith in Christ. “My identity and security,” he says, “is founded in the Lord.  And what defines me and my validation comes in having accepted His Son Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.  And what defines me is the Word of God, and it’s the Word of God that will continue to shape and mold me into the person I know that He’s called me to be.”

Monk not only quotes Scripture be he does so in an evenhanded, humble way which is in contrast to most cringe-worthy Christian-athlete rhetoric that seems devoid of any doctrine other than God-as-cosmic-good-luck-charm.  It’s a way that suggests that Monk has sat under good biblical and doctrinal teaching the majority of his adult life.

He was introduced by his son, James Monk Jr., who spoke at length about Monk’s involvement in his local church body in Washington, D.C., and how his commitment to Christ shaped his career, and his parenting:

Art and Son“So to answer the question, do you want to be like Art Monk when you grow up, my answer is I’d rather be like Dad.  Dad, thank you for being the man of God that God has called you to be, and for raising me in the same way.  As your best friend, as your admirer, as your biggest fan, and as your son, I want to tell the whole world that I love you and I’m truly honored and blessed to induct you into the 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame.”” (pp 155-157).

As I read the James Monk Jr.’s words I was filled with a longing that my future children (of whom I hope at least one is a boy) would feel the same way towards me.  That I could be such a positive model of what a man of God looks like in life.  A person that my son(s) would want to emulate and a kind of man that my daughter(s) would seek to marry.

“Just Do Something” Book Review

Do SomethingI have finished the book, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will, Or, How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc. by Kevin DeYoung.

What is the book about?  Well, the title tends to tell it all; but in case you missed it, it is about finding God’s will without over or hyper-spiritualizing the process into one of inaction and indecision.

I give the book 4 out of 5 stars for the following reasons: (1) It is well thought through and reasoned out.  (2) It can be an excellent book for those who tend to waffle or delay decisions in the name of “not knowing if this is God’s will for me” or “I don’t want to do anything out of my self”.  (3) The book brings the reader to the Bible & to God’s will of sanctification in our lives. (4) The author doesn’t tend to mince words so it is easy to understand what the point is of each chapter. (5) On the slight negative, I feel that DeYoung overly downplays the active role of the Spirit’s speaking (though he does rightly point out people are often too subjective & uncertain when it comes to whether something is from God or ourselves), even though he does attempt to balance this out in a couple chapters.

Here are some excellent excerpts from the book to give you a taste & maybe a desire to read the book in its entirety:

Introductory Thoughts:

“This book is about God’s will – God’s will for confused teenagers, burned-out parents, retired grandparents, and, yes, tinkering millennials…or whatever we’re called…My goal is not as much to tell you how to hear God’s voice in making decisions as it is to help you hear God telling you to get off the long road to nowhere and finally make a decision, get a job, and perhaps, get married” (p 14).

“I realize that I am not dealing with the massive question of how God can decree all that comes to pass while also holding us responsible for our actions.  That’s the old divine sovereignty and human responsibility question.  The Bible clearly affirms both…Both sides of God’s will are in Scripture.  God’s will of decree – what He has predetermined from eternity past – cannot be thwarted.  God’s will of desire – the way He wants us to live – cannot be disregarded …Deuteronomy 29:29…is the closest we come to finding the will of decree and will of desire side by side in the same verse. God has secret things known only to Him (His inscrutable purposes and sovereign will), but He also has revealed things that we are meant to know and obey (His commands and His Word)” (pp 21-23).

“There’s a third way in which we sometimes speak of God’s will.  Most of the time what we really are looking for is God’s will of direction…What does God want me to do with my life? What job should I take? Where should I live? Those are the questions we ask when we seek God’s will of direction…Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following His will of desire is obedient.  Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.  It is bad for your life, harmful to your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkerers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do…The better way is the biblical way: Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going” (pp 24-26).

Some (But Not Nearly All) of the Main Points

“My fear is that of all the choices people face today, the one they rarely consider is, “How can I serve more effectively and fruitfully in the local church?” I wonder if the abundance of opportunities to explore today is doing less to help make well-rounded disciples of Christ and more to help Christians avoid long-term responsibility and have less long-term impact” (pp 36-37).

“[Specific] step-by-step instruction is not usually how God operates.  His way is to show His holiness, declare us holy in Christ, then exhort us to grow in holiness in daily life.  That’s God’s will of desire for you.  And that’s His will of direction too [1 Thessalonians 4:3]” (p 58).

“The will of God for our lives is that we seek His kingdom and His righteousness.  The most important decision we face is the daily decision to live for Christ and die to self” (p 63).

“[Let] me be clear: I believe God guides us in decision making.  But note the key word there: “God guides us in decision making.”  I did not say, “God expects us to discover His plan for our lives.”  The difference between the two sentences is huge.  We are not talking about how God reveals to us ahead of time every decision we must make in life.  Yes it’s proper for Christians to pray to God and seek wisdom from God when we face decisions, even nonethical decisions.  That’s not a bad idea.  What is a bad idea is treating nonethical decisions as weightier than they really are because you think that there is One Right Answer that you must discover” (p 64).

“[The] Bible is not a casebook.  It doesn’t give us explicit information about dating or careers or when to build a church or buy a house.  We’ve all wished that the Bible was that kind of book, but it’s not because God is interested in more than getting us to follow His to-do list; He wants transformation.  God doesn’t want us to merely give external obedience to His commands.  He wants us to know Him so intimately that His thoughts become our thoughts, His ways our ways, His affections our affections.  God want us to drink so deeply of the Scriptures that our heads and hearts are transformed so that we love what He loves and hate what He hates” (pp 91-92).

“God’s will for your life and my life is simpler, harder, and easier…Simpler, because there are no secrets we must discover.  Harder, because denying ourselves, living for others, and obeying God is more difficult than taking a new job and moving to Fargo.  Easier, because as Augustine said, God commands what He wills and grants what He commands…So the end of the matter is this: Live for God.  Obey the Scriptures.  Think of others before yourself.  Be holy.  Love Jesus.  And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God” (pp 121-122).

Loving the Church

I was surfing through my bookmarks and came across Tim Challies’ blog, who is also the author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, a book I really liked, (this blog entry is going to be filled with props for other people’s stuff, so get ready) and happened to come across an ad for a book on my Amazon.com wish list.  Even better, it turns out that this link had a sample chapter of that book plus the study guide for free download!  The book, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, by Ted Kluck & Kevin DeYoung (the same guys who wrote the really good book, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be) appears to take on the prevalent thought among young “second generation” Christians and some non-Christians that Christians and Christianity would be much better off without the “organized” church.  Love the Church

Having read the free sample chapter (the introduction to the book) and skimming through the free online study guide (here’s the link again), I am quite certain that I will purchase the book next month when my book buying budget is reset for a new month (I have already used it up for this month).  Even though I haven’t actually read the book yet, based upon what I have read and Tim Challies’ review I think I could safely say that those involved in churches with high school, college, and young adult ministries should give this book a read through as it may tackle many questions they may receive from those they are shepherding as well as those people’s friends.